Week 11 is officially in the books and the NFC North is now set for what should be a dramatic and exciting final six-game stretch. Every team in the division has had their bye and every team has played 10 games. Let’s take a look at where each team stands as we approach the final stretch of the 2012 regular season…
The Bears have been NFC North leaders for most of the season, but after their loss to San Francisco on Monday Night Football they no longer control the division. After starting 7-1, the Bears have lost consecutive games to quality teams (Houston, San Francisco) and now sit at 7-3, including 1-1 in the division. And it doesn’t get any easier for the Bears down the stretch, as they’ll play the Vikings twice in three weeks with Seattle sandwiched between. Then, they host the Green Bay Packers (more on them below) in Week 15 before closing out the season with consecutive road games at Arizona and Detroit. Chicago’s defense is one of the League’s best, but the offense must turn things around if they want to remain in the playoff picture. QB Jay Cutler missed this past week’s game (concussion) and the offensive line just allowed 6 sacks to the 49ers defense.
Green Bay Packers
There might not be a hotter team in the NFL right now. The Packers have won five consecutive games, a stretch that includes a thrashing of the AFC’s best team – the Houston Texans - in Week 6 and a gutty 24-20 win on the road over Detroit last week. The winning streak has them at 7-3 (2-0 in the NFC North) and has vaulted them to a tie atop the division with Chicago. Just as Chicago and Minnesota will do, the Packers will enter a key stretch of their season over the next three weeks, as they travel to play the NY Giants this Sunday before hosting the Vikings and Lions in Week 13 and Week 14. Then Green Bay closes the season with a home game vs. Tennessee sandwiched between road trips to Chicago and Minnesota.
Speaking of Minnesota, the Vikings come out of their bye with a 6-4 record (2-0 in the NFC North) and a challenging stretch of games staring them in the face. It begins this week in Chicago, continues next week in Green Bay, and then advances to a home game against the Bears followed by consecutive road games in St. Louis and Houston before a season finale at home against Green Bay. Yes, that slate of games is a brutal stretch. But it’s also good news because it means the Vikings control their own destiny. They are currently one game behind both Chicago and Green Bay, but they have four games against those opponents, which gives them an opportunity to methodically work their way into the playoff picture and perhaps even a division title. It all starts this week in Chicago.
What a difference five minutes can make. With 5:21 to play in the 4th quarter, the Lions led the Packers 17-14 and had a 1st and goal from the Green Bay 10. A TD would’ve sealed the victory and reestablished the Lions as a playoff contender. Detroit couldn’t find the end zone, though, and settled for a FG and 6-point lead instead. Just 2.5 minutes later, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers lofted a pass toward WR Randall Cobb in the end zone, and Green Bay took a 21-20 lead. Detroit couldn’t muster a game-winning drive of their own, and the air was let out of their 2012 season. They were close to overcoming a poor start to the season (1-3 into a Week 5 bye) with three wins in four games from Week 6 to Week 9, but two straight losses to the Vikings and Packers has ended any thought of a comeback. The loss to Green Bay dropped Detroit to 4-6, a record that includes a devastating 0-4 mark in the division. Detroit is now relegated to a spoiler role within the division (they have one game remaining against both Chicago and Green Bay) and also to trying to generate momentum to carry into 2013.
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